Written by Kirsti Evans and Illustrated by John Swogger, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This book is aimed at young people between the ages of 7 and 15 who have a parent or other adult in their lives with Asperger Syndrome and is styled and designed to meet that need. As the writer explains it should act as a springboard to further discussion, a tool to break the ice and provide a starting point.
Today, before posting, I have read this book through a third time, just to make sure.
To begin with it’s important to recognize the first two characters, Kirsti and John. They are important because they pop up later in the book, sprinkled here and there to explain what is going on in the stories. This point wasn’t immediately clear to me, so I just thought I’d mention it. Their role could be described as narrators, to clarify aspects of the scenarios.
The book is presented in a casual comic book style and has a comfortable air about it due in part to the font of the typeface and more importantly, the illustrations. To me, the pictures are a stylized combination of cartoon, anime and manga. This is great because it makes them familiar and accessible to most young people and it is their very neutrality that makes them universally applicable–the reader can superimpose or imagine their own relative in the place of the characters presented.
One particularly helpful element which could prove useful to many people is the illustration on page 29 [in my copy]. This highlights four aspects of Asperger Syndrome: imagination, communication, the senses and emotions, and relationships. Each one is associated with an icon, a bit like a PEC but the visual works like a shorthand or short-cut to help someone recall areas which can cause difficulties.
The book provides a number of scenes of everyday family life where everything does not go according to plan. They focus on different family members in turn. They are lengthy and detailed but should strike a chord of familiarity. On completion of each ’story,’ the narrators untangle the scene to discover what went wrong and why, and more importantly, how the situation could be handled differently in the future.
From this you can tell this book could be a very useful tool, especially because of the positive aspect of ‘how could we do this better.’
If it sounds as if I have reservations you would be right, but this is because the subject matter is complex. It is difficult to make a complex subject easier to understand. Simplification is a challenge but necessary–how else could we explain Asperger Syndrome to a youngster?
On the other hand, for the young reader, this book covers any number of sophisticated issues. Throughout the book something nagged at me, but I couldn’t pin point what it was until I came to the last ’story.’ Number 6 is called:- ‘What about me?’ where the son of the family takes center stage. Here he voices what worried me. The book focuses on helping children understand their parent or adult friend with Asperger Syndrome. It helps a child look at the situation differently and learn new approaches to reduce future conflict, all of which is great, but it’s asking a lot of that child, any child. I know these days we are often accused of being too child focused but there is also the accusation that parents are too ‘me–selfish–my time’ obsessed as well.
But that would be only one small blip in an otherwise very useful and sensitively constructed book. The first thirty plus pages explain many of the aspects of Asperger Syndrome in an illustrative and interesting manner but younger readers may struggle here. A great deal depends upon the age of the reader and their level of sophistication. If I were a parent in that situation, I would read the book in it’s entirety and then select one story that best suited my families circumstances for my child to read, preferably together, especially if ‘attention span,’ is an issue.
I would congratulate the authors for producing a well thought out, wonderfully illustrated book which has broken new ground– an exciting new trend–hope it becomes a series? [hint, hint]
p.s. Spoiler alert / warning:-
Some more eagle eyed readers may be able to spot something which bears a remarkable resemblance to a clown face in a wall poster decorating one of the character’s bedroom.